"Climate change survey is reason for concern"

The Environmental Inverted Pyramid by Nate Silver, 2009


This chart, adopted from a very interesting new survey (.pdf) of 2,164 American adults on climate policy, reveals part of the problem that advocates of more aggressive measures to curb climate change may be encountering as they seek to push forward initiatives like cap-and-trade.

The survey, conducted by George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, reveals that Americans are concerned about global warming in the abstract -- but perhaps only in the abstract. Just 32 percent of Americans think global warming will harm them "a great deal" or a "a moderate amount" personally. The further we get out from the individual, however, the more impactful people think climate change will tend to be: more impactful on their families than themselves; more impactful on their communities than their families; more impactful on their country than their communities; more impactful than other counties than on the United States; more impactful on future generations than the present one, and finally, more impactful on plants and animals than on humans.

These beliefs are not necessarily irrational. Climate change probably will have more impact on the developing world than the developed one, and it almost certainly will have more impact on our children than it does on ourselves.

Nevertheless, the fact that fewer than a third of Americans are worried about the effects that climate change will have on them personally strikes me as significant. Although more aggressive policy responses on climate change generally poll fairly well, they are also often the first things to be sacrificed in Americans' minds when something else intervenes, such as a recession or higher energy prices. Advocates of cap-and-trade may need to find ways to personalize the terms of the debate.
Center for a Sustainable Coast Responds

The survey findings are useful but disturbing, given the American mindset. If people view climate change as important mainly in terms of impacts beyond their lifetimes, while continuing to cultivate values that marginalize the future, we'll suffer costly policy delays that are certain to greatly amplify the destructive consequences of climate change.

Making legacy dedications that commit future efforts to resolving climate change problems, unless translated into actions in the near-term (such as borrowing from future legacy revenues to effect reforms), will fail to support timely action. Preoccupation with prolonging profits from reckless practices, such as burning coal and spreading sprawl, will only propagate our self-deluding negligence.

~ David Kyler, Executive Director, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Feb 11, 2010
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